And no, this post has NOTHING to do with physical fitness, so stick with me, please!
Several months ago, a friend posted somewhere online that her daughter's pre-school was having a cultural celebration day and each child was supposed to bring a food item that represented their cultural heritage. My friend, raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Utah, determined that her daughter would celebrate her religious culture side by bringing a green jello dish. Because nothing screams stereotypical Mormon than a great green jello salad, right? ;-) I thought this was a cute idea for a pre-schooler to do a little missionary work. I have no idea how in the world Jello became synonymous with Mormon, but somewhere along the lines, we've all heard it.
But that got me thinking. A LOT of times, we pour Jello into molds. In those cases, our purpose is to have the jello come out looking a specific way and by a certain way, I mean “a perfect imitation of the mold.” Even if we're not intending on the jello to come out and be a specific shape from the mold, it does form to whatever container we pour it into to set. And a LOT of times, we tend to try to put ourselves and even other people into molds. Our minds love to categorize. It's not always a bad thing, but in some cases, it doesn't work to our advantage.
Some molds that I can think of are “athletic” I certainly don’t feel I fit that mold, but I do enjoy a certain few athletic endeavors, but I certainly am not in that mold. There is the “musically talented” mold, oh, I do fit this one, and I love it! There’s a “crunchy, granola” mold (which has several different definitions, but the one I am familiar with is a person who prefers natural remedies and tries to eat organic while also being “green”), the “rich” mold, the “book nerd” mold (I definitely belong here too), there are religion based “molds” too. We all probably have, based on personal experience, a molded image that comes to mind when you think of: Jehovah’s Witnesses, LDS/Mormons, Orthodox Jews, Mennonites, Amish, Southern Baptist, Hindu, Islam. Whether or not our views on ANY mold are correct is up for grabs. And whatever our perceptions are, at least a tiny bit is probably based on truth. But for now, I’m going to specifically address the topic of fitting into the “LDS mold.”
People who don’t know me very well, and even some who do would probably say that I fit the mold of a faithful member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But here's a secret: I don't FEEL like I fit into the LDS mold. I never have. Sometimes I feel isolated because I feel like instead of coming out of the mold, I come out like most of my attempts at jello do: a big blob with no definition of shape. As a child and teen, I was shunned by many of my peers because I was "too good" for them. A "goodie-two shoes". I never understood why a group of kids going to a church that taught that we should be good and that it would bring happiness and blessings to be good, would think that being good was undesirable. But I grew up with many. I never got it. Those kids didn't fit MY idea of the LDS mold. As an adult, I converse with friends of the same faith and realize that what I personally believe about any given subject doesn't always match what they believe about the same subject. Those people don't fit MY idea of the mold! But wait, I thought the LDS Church preached uniformity?! How come there isn't a large group of people who FIT THE MOLD HERE?! Certainly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does uphold a certain degree of uniformity, but there is a LOT of room for people-and even congregations as a whole to be unique and different. Remember if you MUST use a mold, the best ones are flexible (silicone vs. metal anyone?) As stated in Handbook 2 Adiminstering in the Church Chapter 17, "Members of the Church live in a wide variety of political, social, and economic conditions. Wards and branches also vary in size and leadership resources. These conditions may require local leaders to adapt some Church programs. Such adaptations typically affect the auxiliaries, leadership meetings, and activity programs. The guidelines in this chapter are intended to help priesthood leaders determine which adaptations may be appropriate and which are not." https://www.lds.org/handbook/handbook-2-administering-the-church/uniformity-and-adaptation?lang=eng
Because here's another secret: The LDS "mold" is a figment of the imagination. Notice I said that I had a specific idea of what the mold was, but couldn’t find many people who met it. Because more specifically, the "mold" is most likely everything you think you're NOT but feel you SHOULD be. In other words, your perception of the mold is different from MY perception of the mold, and quite possibly holding you back from being your best self. Because that mold only reflects back your weaknesses, it doesn't necessarily inspire you to do better. To illustrate this point, I'm going to list whatever comes to mind when I try to picture what I USED to believe the Ideal LDS Woman's Mold was: (in no particular order)
Has 1 year + food storage for entire family
Has at least 3 month's salary saved up in case of a "rainy day"
Teaches amazing FHE lessons complete with activity and treat that are planned more than 10 minutes in advance
Looks perfectly put together-hair and make up done every day, even if just going to the store
Arrives to church at LEAST 5 minutes early. Her kids sit quietly for the WHOLE duration of sacrament meeting
Home schools. Or talks about how she's going to home school one day. If she doesn’t home school, she volunteers. A lot. She’s probably running for PTO president.
Exercises enough to stay healthy and fit
Cooks 3 hot meals a day-that don't come from a box, and maybe only a few cans (because you HAVE to rotate that food storage, ya know!)
Keeps an immaculately clean house
Reads scriptures every day
Doesn't forget morning prayers
Does her visiting teaching within the first 2 weeks of the month
Bakes cookies for her husband's home teaching families
Has musical talent
Has Pinterest worthy crafting skills-WITHOUT having to go to Pinterest
Magnifies her callings in her ward
Stays at home-and LOVES it-EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF IT
Plans wholesome recreational activities for her family
Has memorized The Family, A Proclamation to the World
Makes hair bows for her girls
Ok, I think you get the picture here. I could go on. The point is, when I look at ALL those things together, they're so overwhelming that it just reeks of "just give up you'll never get there". Let’s get things straight. NONE of those things on the list are bad in any way. Many of them are awesome, and some extremely important! The lie is that in order to “fit in” you have to be able to check off all of those things before becoming truly acceptable in the eyes of everyone else in the religion, including yourself. The even BIGGER lie we tell ourselves is that everyone else has accomplished this list. Or whatever YOUR list is.
So, how to we break out of the mold, or rather the IDEA that a mold even exists? It's going against human nature, or the natural man as Mosiah (3:19) put it, to do so. In the movie "Get Smart" with Anne Hathaway and Steve Carell, they are portraying secret agents. Anne's character spots a large middle-eastern man wearing a turban in the back of a plane they are on and reports to Steve that there is a "bad man" in the back. Steve accuses her of "profiling" and they are professionally obligated not to do it. When he spots the same man in question his jerk response is something to the effect of "Oh that is a REALLY bad man! Wait, no that's profiling and I'll have nothing to do with it!" Which is what we need to do. As soon as we catch ourselves shoving ourselves or anyone else for that matter into a mold, apply Elder Uchtdorf's policy of "Stop it!" Even though he was referring to judging people, isn't it a form of judging when we unfairly put ourselves and others into a mold that doesn't exist? You can read his full address here.
It is true that a vast majority if LDS women hold the same basic set of doctrines and teachings dear and apply them to their lives. And because of this, we do seem to all come from the same mold, the mold of modest dressing, family driven, community conscious, charity giving women. But being a woman in this Church is SO much more than any molded perception ANYONE could possibly have. A friend of mine pointed out that the people she thinks, “fit the mold” better than her are the people she doesn’t know very well. As we get to know them better, we have a much more realistic view of them, that they are actually human with imperfections just like us! Who probably don’t feel like they fit the mold either-but until getting to know you felt like you fit the mold better than them!
In the Church, the Young Women have 8 Values that they strive to develop. One of them is Individual Worth. To me this means that we all have different strengths and weaknesses-that we are all individuals trying our best to be our best selves. Fitting into a mold was not meant for us. Abraham 3:23 states “And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast before thou wast born.”
The souls were good. Not identical. And molds-when all is said and done-are intended to create multiple identical objects. Please do away with the idea that a mold even exists. Please embrace the value of Individual Worth for yourself and others. We are all absolutely and irrevocably important to God’s plan-without having to be popped out of a mold. Leave that for next potluck when you want to bring Jello. :-)